The Teachers Union's Problem with Mike Miles Is Not Mike Miles. It's His Teacher-Pay Plan.

Categories: Schutze

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So the Dallas ISD Board of Education, which decided at its last meeting to keep but humiliate its superintendent of schools, will meet again tomorrow, locked inside another closed-door "executive session," to decide whether to keep, fire or further humiliate the superintendent. A person looking on as those doors swing shut again would be justified in wondering if something big is going on in there that they're not telling us about.

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Dallas Observer
Teachers union president Rena Honea wants to talk about Mike Miles' passion. Let's not. Let's talk about teacher pay instead.
Yes. There is. Something huge, an elephant in the room, but it never gets talked about, because the people most interested in the elephant never want to admit it's in there. Hint: The most vocal and aggressive interest group agitating for the ultimate sanction, the firing of Superintendent Mike Miles, has been the Alliance-AFT Teachers Association. In press conferences, op-ed pieces and robo-calls, Alliance-AFT president Rena Honea has urged, pleaded and demanded that Miles be fired.

Honea insists the reasons Miles must be fired have everything to do with personality and moral integrity: "Miles has shown no urgency, passion, creativity or even interest in helping improve the education and future of our students by dealing seriously with our very real challenges," she said in a recent essay.

Honea is a serious person, an able and effective champion for her members, and I'm not going to question her sincerity. But how many times can you talk about anybody's personality? So in the interest of getting the ball back in play, if nothing else, I do want to suggest that somebody give that elephant a poke.

According to Honea, the most important issue for the approximately 9,770 teachers in the Dallas school system is that they be treated as professionals. What she doesn't mention -- The elephant enters, stage right -- is that she wants them to be paid as assembly-line workers.

The current system -- the one the unions like -- bases pay entirely on factors the teachers themselves control: seniority and the number of academic degrees they hold. It offers very little discretion or control to management to reward good teachers and get rid of bad ones.

The system Miles favors -- the one he will try to implement if the school board ever settles down long enough to focus -- is based on so-called "teacher effectiveness." And there can be lots of room for serious grownups to argue how effectiveness can or should be measured.

Miles will argue his system is fair, consistent and transparent. When we get to the argument, I assume Honea and her people will counter that it is not fair, consistent or transparent.

Everybody in this picture is smart. Everybody has legitimate standing and cause. But a good argument on the real issue is what we need most. We need to get to it. We need to stop thinking this is some kind of adolescent iPhone spat about who's cool and who's not. This is a labor-management issue about money.

Under the current system, the average teacher salary ranges from about $47,000 for a first-year teacher to about $56,000 for a teacher with 14 years of experience, including bumps for advanced degrees. Under a system Miles favors, that range might be closer to $47,000 to $65,000, with star teachers earning much more and consistently underperforming ones seeing their pay cut.

Think of the current system as a modest slope, the Miles system as a steeper slope with higher rewards at the top. Why would teachers oppose a system that seems to offer better chances for improvement in pay? In casual chats with union people sitting around after meetings, they have raised what I think is a legitimate doubt about the Miles system. They don't believe one of its central premises can be true.

The Miles system is based on an assertion to the school board that he can pull off a true merit-based pay system within the same approximate budget confines that support the current system. In fact, Miles asserts by reducing teacher turnover and shedding teachers at the bottom of the effectiveness scale, he will actually free up a larger overall sum of money to be paid in total teacher compensation.

The unions smell smoke. They believe the real game here is to reduce the overall budget for teacher and principal pay, buy off the top players with star salaries and relegate the masses to lower pay.

It's a fair question. But it dodges our old friend, the elephant. The elephant is this: Should teachers be paid like assembly-line workers, strictly on the basis of time in service? Or, assuming they are professionals and some of them are better or worse at their profession than others, should they be paid according to some formula based on how good they are at teaching?

Notice I said "some formula." Let's put the precise nature of the formula to the side for the moment. We can argue about the formula after we decide the principle: time in service or merit? On which should teacher pay be based?

The Dallas Morning News editorial page is always calling for Mike Miles and the school board to move beyond areas of disagreement and concentrate on things they can be nice to each other about. But in fact that's exactly the opposite of what they need to do. They need to get to the real fight.

Teacher pay. Tenure or merit. Which is it going to be?

In fact, wouldn't it be nice if there were some way you and I could reach in there, clutch them all by the collar and make them take an oath? We would tell them they will be perfectly free to go after each other about who's better looking and which ones are more likely to get into heaven. It will be fine with us if they have a great big wide-open debate on how to measure teacher effectiveness. After.

They can dive into all those other issues after they decide whether teachers should continue being paid as they are now, strictly according to years in service, or be paid instead according to a merit system that everyone involved agrees is fair.

I'm an old union dude myself, former member of the United Auto Workers Union, former member of the Newspaper Guild, a child of the Motor City. My late mother was a very loyal teachers union member and a strict advocate of seniority pay. I do get where seniority pay comes from, and I do know its virtues as a protection for workers against arbitrary compensation and firing.

But given the massive failure of major American urban school districts including our own to bring poor students to full literacy and mathematical competence, I also believe it's legitimate and fair for people to ask whether we may need to make a change. That issue -- tenure versus merit -- is the elephant in the room.

When the anti-Miles faction on the school board tells me they need to go behind closed doors for yet another closed-door meeting to talk about Miles' personality, I begin to think that poor old elephant has been locked up in there with them for way too long. What they really need in there is the guy with the shovel. Every time they come back out, the odor of truth still clings to their clothing.

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60 comments
epicmale
epicmale

I think it is time that we break up the monopoly of the DISD.  Once they get past a certain size, ISDs become top heavy with administrators as cronyism and nepotism run rampant.  So, lets break it up into school districts composed of no more than one high school per ISD.  Let them compete!  The school districts with the highest academic performance get to absorb the lowest performing geographical neighboring ISD.

Oh, yeah, and throw the Feds out of all education!

bbetzen
bbetzen

Jim, I am a retired union member and retired teacher and have made a long list of reasons Miles must go:  http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/

I do not fully agree with the union on the pay issue, but they do have a point.  There are so many other problems with Miles' management that the Union, and anyone dedicated to students, are all concerned about.  Are you trying to avoid the other reasons?   How about you attack the spreadsheet on the posting I made today?  I dare you!

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

Alleged "merit pay" has absolutely no track record of improving outcomes anywhere it's been implemented. But it makes money for the people who implement the yardsticks for "measuring" performance.

theblesseddamozel
theblesseddamozel

The problem with the teacher effectiveness method is the mysterious algorithm used to decide that effectiveness. A DISD teacher I know was told she had an index of 49.5. (50 was considered effective.) When she examined the list of students whose scores were used to calculate her effectiveness, she found six students who should not have been on her list either because of excessive absences or transfers. She was told that removing six students and recalculating would not change her score. No teacher I know has been shown exactly how their work is calculated into a numerical "grade" that determines future employment. How fair is that?

These effectiveness indices also presume that two students of the same race and socioeconomic  level will make the same gains if a teacher is effective. Let's say Student #1 has two parents and lives in the same house all year and generally has a stable life. Student #2 gets pregnant in September, is thrown out by her parents and spends the rest of the year sofa-surfing with friends and dealing with baby drama. The effectiveness indices say that these students should make the same gains on the end of term exams if their teacher is effective. Human-beings might disagree.

To this end, teachers who oppose performance-based pay tend to oppose it because no one has developed a truly fair and objective method of determining who deserves the merit pay and who needs to be shown the door. Seniority can be judged objectively by anyone who can count. Advanced degrees can be verified. Teacher-effectiveness?... That's a whole different ball game.

Edward
Edward

Sorry to burst your bubble, but there are no teachers unions in Texas.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

Couple questions below about why it has to be either/or, merit or seniority, along with one about penalizing teachers who get assigned bad students, I think. I shorthanded this too much. The system Miles is talking absolutely does take into account the type of kids each teachers teaches. It measures teachers against peers who teach the same demographic slice. It does not give a head start to teachers who get all the smart kids. And it includes measurements to balance against test scores, so it's not just test score driven. But I still say all of that is the next issue, not this issue. Here is this issue: assuming some fair merit and performance system can be devised, should teacher pay and employment be based on merit and performance or stay the way it is, strictly based on seniority. 

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

I get where the teachers come down on this only by understanding that the "common wisdom" being blathered at most every level on that end (teachers unions) is: Even potentially great teachers can only perform as well as the aggregate ability of the student body allows them to, so we need to reward them based not on performance factors that they can't control, but on combat experience, so to speak.

We have allowed for that possibility in declining urban districts across this country for decades and it seems that teacher pay based on time on the job is a spectacular failure. I don't know if Miles ideas will work  - but neither does Honea know that they won't.

Seems like it's time to try something else. 

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

Why does it have to be either or? Can't teachers receive a base salary with incentives? Can't incentives also be team and campus based like they are in most corporations?

There are other problems too. Back when I was teaching the district rolled out performance pay. As a very successful teacher my principal asked if I would volunteer without pay to train teachers on other campuses. She seemed surprised when I politely declined but I explained that the performance pay awards were based on ranking teachers against each other. Why would I help another teacher when they're competing with me? Using that logic should I hope that every other school and teacher fails? After all, if they all suck that just means I've got a better shot at the highest performance pay level. 

killwhiteprivilege
killwhiteprivilege

You should be celebrating, Schitze. You are seeing the very logical end results of all your "progressive advocacy journalism" that you've wasted so much of your time helping to create. Why did you white-flight from Detroit?

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

The News' position is standard comity blather - mythologizing that no bad wirds means everything is perfect. Which has so often proven to be wrong in controversy phobic Dallas. So, I agree...kick it up and make everyone defend their positions, instead of, "well we been doin it this way for years" buggy whip, we ride horses to work crapola.

leftocenter
leftocenter

"...or be paid instead according to a merit system that everyone involved agrees is fair."  You lost me -- does the teacher's union agree it's fair? 

Two things -- first, the difference between that entry level pay and 14 year pay is incredibly small, and the higher "merit" based pay is not that much better. 

Secondly, does it have to be either/or? 

If it is -- or can be -- a hybrid of both, and that makes sense, then it really is the issue, the exact  issue and how "some system" is designed can't be decided later...

Rix1
Rix1

With the teacher's unions, it's always about the teachers; never about the kids.

gabe48
gabe48

@bbetzen I will happily attack your spreadsheet. Perhaps those minority students skipped school. Perhaps Hispanic students had a hard time grasping the English language, because they are forced to learn it under a terrible, rushed teaching program that is not effective. Perhaps there has been a realization that the SAT is becoming more highly-regarded than the ACT.

You are aware that DISD is VERY minority-majority, correct? You are also aware that this gap is increasing yearly, correct?  

My favorite part of your blog is how you insinuate Mike Miles, a minority himself, somehow favors white people over minorities. Did you ever stop to think that maybe, just maybe, shitty teachers who care more about petty disputes than educating students are dropping the ball?  No, it must be Miles!

Guesty
Guesty

@Cliffhanger But "seniority pay", which is just a name for "lockstep, show up and get paid the same no matter how good or bad you are at your job pay" has a proven record of success? 

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@theblesseddamozel 

I will agree that this is truly a troublesome knot, and results are difficult to quantify.

What's that old joke, again? Oh, yeah:

Q: What do you call the guy that finished last in his class in medical school?

A: Doctor.

Guesty
Guesty

@theblesseddamozel Any system won't be perfect, and teachers don't have any counter proposals for measuring merit.  They simply don't want evaluations with any consequences.  

That may be a defensible position for jobs that don't require skill other than a capacity for hard work, but it is a piss poor way to manage a professional workforce.  Every other group of professional employees is subject to some form of merit based evaluation that affects their compensation, likelihood of promotion, or potential termination.  And every other profession is subject to similar challenges of subjectivity in evaluations, difficulty in measuring outcomes, etc.  We all learn to cope with a system that that in some cases rewards some less deserving and fails to reward some who are most deserving.  That still is preferable to a system that does not even try.     

dalmom
dalmom

@Edward There are unions - they just have no collective bargaining power. 

Angrywhiteguy
Angrywhiteguy

don't bring facts into an Observer article. 

animas
animas

If not here, could you expound on "a fair merit and performance system" at some point?

dmtrousd
dmtrousd

But great teachers will have better performance out of mediocre students than mediocre teachers will. It should be possible to compare head to head cohorts among different teachers. If a teacher consistently fails to improve test scores of students when compared to peers, then that should be a red flag for performance evaluation.

When I was a grade school student I had the great fortune of being around really great teachers, and the misfortune of being subject to truly bad teachers as well. Bad teachers can suck the ever living life out of students.

Why is that a profession that focuses on frequent grading and evaluation of students does not see the value in applying the same methods to itself?

uptownguy1
uptownguy1

@EastDallasDad I think most people commenting on this thread don't really understand what you are trying to convey.  Why would Apple mentor, help, share effective methods with Samsung about smartphones?  They compete for the same pile of $$$.  EastDallasDad doesn't want other teachers to fail, but he doesn't want to help other teachers take his strategies and experience and profit from it also.  It's a free market society, remember?  

People expect teachers to help and support everyone.  We don't expect that from every person in the business world.  If you give away all your secrets to success to someone who profits and gets the promotion over you, then you're the fool.

dmtrousd
dmtrousd

In medical school and residency we competed amongst one another for class rank, yet we had a code of always helping each other out (study groups, sharing notes, transcribing lectures) because it raised everybody's game. Full collaboration happened in preparation for exams, and the exams were the moment for each student to outshine one another (all done without pay, of course). There were outliers, known as "gunners," but they were shunned.

The fact that you refused to assist other teachers on a common endeavor is sad, unfortunate, and indicative of why merit pay cannot work without the proper culture.

Guesty
Guesty

@EastDallasDad You have a very low opinion of teachers because you are projecting your own failings.  Hoping other teachers don't succeed because they are in competition with you for a little incentive compensation makes you worse than any member of the DISD Board or recent superintendent.  I don't think most other teachers are like that, and I don't think a few thousand dollars of incentive compensation will make them like that. 

But I don't have any problem with declining to train without payment.  You should be paid for helping other teachers.  In fact, that seems like a nice way of working incentive compensation into the system: pay the best teachers a stipend to train the others their secrets.  Of course you would probably train them to be worse teachers just to protect your bonus, but that goes back to the problem being you, not the system.   

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@EastDallasDad 

I can see why you wouldn't want to work without being paid, but the idea that you would be reluctant to train somebody else because it might put them in competition with you seems to be more the problem than the ranking idea itself. I don't say that lightly, either, as I work in a profession that has a long and successful history of apprenticeship that historically, consistently produces journeymen craftsmen that are ready and able to perform the tasks required to succeed while weeding out the people that just aren't up to the job.

Why would a self described "very successful teacher" be worried that some trainee was going to undermine their pay? Wouldn't an atmosphere of professionalism and a culture of success eventually lift the fortunes of all of the teachers in a successful district? Isn't that the whole idea, here? 

Let me ask you this. Hypothetically, if you had taken on this task to train another teacher and that teacher proved to be unready, unwilling or unable to perform at the level you determined to be minimum. What would you do with that teacher, had you the power to decide their fate? 

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@killwhiteprivilege 

Tell you what, Sweetie, Detroit would kick your little ass in about 30 seconds.

Guesty
Guesty

@leftocenter I don't think Miles proposal ignores seniority.  That is, every "merit" based system I have heard of is really a hybrid.    

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@leftocenter 

OK, let me ask it this way: should such a system be devised?

uptownguy1
uptownguy1

@Rix1 Like most unions, it's about the workers not the customers!

People need to start thinking of it in this way.  Just because it's a school system it still has assets, employees, intellectual property, costs and customers.

Kids are the customers.  If you think of it like this, then it changes the approach.

uptownguy1
uptownguy1

@Guesty @theblesseddamozel your statement "Every other group of professional employees is subject to some form of merit based evaluation that affects their compensation, likelihood of promotion, or potential termination" while on paper is true is more difficult to implement.  I work in a professional environment with a professional workforce.  We have Goals and Objectives (set by the employee and their manager collectively) which are understandable and measurable by all participants and reassessed at mid-year.  I have never known an individual's pay being lowered as a result of this evaluation process. While this sounds reasonable for DISD the actual plan is to reduce overall pay across the board.

Schutze's comments above "In fact, Miles asserts by reducing teacher turnover and shedding teachers at the bottom of the effectiveness scale, he will actually free up a larger overall sum of money to be paid in total teacher compensation" is false.  In his first year teacher turnover and retirements hit a peak.  Experienced teachers with years of knowledge, experience and training are leaving and being replaced with 21 year old "playboy bunnies".  Eventually a large % of teachers in DISD will have 5 or less years of service and will be paid at the lowest compensation levels.  My question here is: "Does this apply to coaches too?"  After all, they teach classes other than athletics?  Are coach salaries going to be reduced based on their classroom performance?

Miles implemented a similar system in CO.  The number of teachers making the higher salaries are razor thin while the % of lower paid teachers continues to expand.  The children of DISD will once again suffer as experienced and qualified teachers decide to leave for neighboring school districts.

Angrywhiteguy
Angrywhiteguy

@dalmom @joe.tone 

I'm a teacher............there are teacher "associations" in Texas, not unions.

There is no collective bargaining, no ability to strike, negotiate contracts.........all the hallmarks of a labor union.

The majority of teachers in Texas belong to ATPE....nearly twice as many than AFT. Yet who does the media go to for their soundbites?

Same tired old hag at Dallas AFT, Rena Honea.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@animas 

Sure, although I'm not really qualified at all to say precisely how it should work in this instance. I could talk about it in my own business better. But in this debate, the immediate objections to how a merit system would work are really a dodge. First, people need to say whether they agree there is merit. Are some teachers better than others? Are some real good? Are some real bad? Second, is it theoretically possible to measure which ones are good and which are bad? The only field I can think of where good and bad performance really can't be quantifed in any way is the sex trade. So let's assume we agree there is relative merit and there is some way to measure it. Now, who among us believes teacher pay should not be based on measurable merit but should be based on seniority, as it is now? And what is the argument for that? 

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@dmtrousd 

You are exactly right. The system Miles has in mind would of course allow for the cohort of students the teacher inherits at the beginning of the year. Hulk's argument is a red herring. Teachers would not be measured according to an absolute achievement level for students but instead according to the amount they are able to move their students ahead compared to other teachers with the same kind of students. Computers allow us to drill down and measure and track each student, in fact, not a cohort,  so that the administration can know where each and every student starts and finishes the year. At some point you really have to worry about the morality of teachers who would not accept even that much accountability for what they do. Do they not believe they are capable of teaching their students anything at all beyond what the kid volunteers to learn the first day? What kind of people make these arguments?

Guesty
Guesty

@uptownguy1 @EastDallasDad "People expect teachers to help and support everyone.  We don't expect that from every person in the business world.  If you give away all your secrets to success to someone who profits and gets the promotion over you, then you're the fool."

You don't seem to know much about competition or collaboration in the real world.  Every profession evaluates merit and promotes collaboration. For example, if you are on a development team at Apple and don't do everything you can to help the other engineers because you don't want them to get the next promotion you apply for, not only will you not get the promotion because you will not be viewed as a team player, but you will likely find your ass on the street eventually.      

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

@Guesty @EastDallasDad Except there are reams of data that prove East Dallas Dad's point: put teachers in a collaborative atmosphere where everybody wins by working together, and outcomes improve, without incentive or extra pay.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@Guesty @EastDallasDad 

In the apprenticeship programs I've been part of, designated mentors are already receiving a higher level of compensation owing to the fact that part and parcel of their job is training apprentices.

These positions aren't for everyone, but, yeah. It Definitely opens up another avenue of compensation for the people that are willing and able to be mentors.

killwhiteprivilege
killwhiteprivilege

Very telling testimonial for Detroit. Why did you white-flight from Detroit? Because you are a hypocrite and you've wasted your life creating libtard propaganda for a publication that until recently made most of its money on the backs of child sex-slaves.

eastdallascam
eastdallascam

@JimSX @leftocenter 
Yes, it should. That is something that would make sense to devise. A system devised as such would provide the necessary framework for this article's question to be answered "effectively."

uptownguy1
uptownguy1

@Guesty @uptownguy1 @theblesseddamozel You must not have much experience in your field.  20 years vs. 5 is significantly different.  Techniques utilized, developing an approach and managing the workload, resources (students and parents in this case) all come with more experience and competence level does improve.  There are always exceptions, but experience with incompetence is not the norm.

Guesty
Guesty

@uptownguy1 @Guesty @theblesseddamozel But you are attacking Miles' proposal in particular rather than dealing with the overreaching objection by teachers.  Teachers don't want any merit based evaluations tied to any compensation, regardless of how it is structured.  They want lock-step seniority based pay and are unwilling to even discuss an alternative.

I think you also are assuming too much about experience.  Experience does not equal competence, particularly if the employer has never set out to measure merit.  In the DISD, I doubt there is much difference in quality between a teacher who has been teaching for 5 years and one who has been teaching for 20 years, if for no other reason, the 20 year teacher has never been expected or given any incentive to improve.      

uptownguy1
uptownguy1

@JimSX @animas I'm assuming this pay for performance also applies to coaches too, correct?  All my coaches also taught social studies, geography, civics, basic science and math.  How are coaches deemed effective outside the sports they manage/teach?

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@JimSX @dmtrousd 

If you'll read my post a bit closer and all the way to the end, you'll see that that isn't my argument at all, but what I have overheard from teachers I know.

Reading Is Fundamental.

What were we discussing, again?

uptownguy1
uptownguy1

@Guesty @uptownguy1 @EastDallasDad Actually, I have 25 years of corporate experience and have a history of promotion through collaboration.  You did not understand the point.  People overall expect teachers to help others, far beyond what we would expect similar people in the business world.  They expect him to coach and mentor other teachers at other schools at his own expense.  You wouldn't do that, period.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@Cliffhanger @Guesty @EastDallasDad 

I'm really not trying to be shitty, here, but: Where are the results? If that system is so good, why has it not worked up to this point? Citations, please. Let's see the reams . . .

Proof is in the pudding. The only results that count are graduated students.

Guesty
Guesty

@Cliffhanger @Guesty @EastDallasDad That data doesn't prove EastDallasDad's point.  All it proves is that collaboration is good.  It does nothing to prove that merit pay is bad.  

Every profession on earth has some form of merit based evaluation by employers, and that does not have to be the death of collaboration.  In fact, collaboration itself can be one of the measures used to evaluate merit. 

killwhiteprivilege
killwhiteprivilege

Why did you white-flee from Detroit, you scumbag hypocrite? For years you made your money off of child sex slaves and prostitutes. If you had any real sense of honor, decency, dignity, and shame, you would put that shotgun in your mouth and blow off your head.

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